MILWAUKEE—Milwaukee Archbishop Rembert G. Weakland sent a letter July 5 to priests, parish directors and deacons of his archdiocese, vigorously defending his position on renovation of the Milwaukee cathedral and declaring that the issues involved “touch the very nature of the church and how it functions.”

The letter became public when the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported on it July 11 and published the complete text on its Web site.

The archbishop declared that Cardinal Jorge Medina Estevez, head of the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, “has not proven that I broke any liturgical norms or canons in making the decisions that were rightfully mine to make as the local bishop of this church.”

The cardinal, in a letter faxed to the archbishop June 30, said aspects of a $4.5 million renovation of the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist now under way violated canonical and liturgical law and asked Archbishop Weakland to revise the project.

Cardinal Medina objected to the transfer of the main altar to the center of the cathedral coupled with placement of an apparently prominent organ in the apse where the original high altar was.

He also objected to the size and location of a eucharistic chapel, the removal of two confessionals and the use of images of persons “whose cult has not received the necessary approval and extension in law by the Holy See.”

In his July 5 letter, Archbishop Weakland wrote that Church liturgical documents that deal with newly constructed or renovated church buildings say it is the local bishop “who is to make the ultimate decision on the disposition of the spaces.”

Said the archbishop, “I will defend my decisions as being not only liturgically correct, sound and beneficial, but also as being my prerogative to make.”

“I do so, not out of stubbornness, but because, at this particular moment of history, it is my obligation to insist on the rights and duties of a local bishop in the Catholic Church,” he added.

The archbishop said that it had become clear to him that “a small contingent of complainants fired off their objections [to the renovation], almost like buckshot, to various Vatican congregations and commissions, hoping that something would hit a target.”

His letter included a group-by-group analysis of those opposing the renovation:

“There is a small group—in Rome, in Milwaukee, and in the United States—who see this as one last opportunity to publicly humiliate ‘Weakland’ before his retirement. They are not without power.” (The archbishop is 74; normal retirement age is 75.)

A larger group consists of those who simply like the cathedral the way it is. “That the celebrant is so far away from the people, that the priest, while celebrating Mass, has his back to the Blessed Sacrament, that the altar upon which Mass is said is an afterthought, that the pulpit is way over on the side and insignificant, etc., are not matters of concern to them.”

A third group is composed of people who have never accepted reforms of the Second Vatican Council and “still hope in their hearts that the church will go back to the way it was in the '50s.”

Archbishop Weakland said that “probably the largest” group of people in the archdiocese, however, consists of those who “simply do not appreciate or understand the importance of a cathedral or its role in the life of the Catholic community, perhaps never having even visited the Cathedral of St. John, and who now are confused by all of this furor.”

In his letter, the archbishop also said there was evidence that the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments had not followed correct legal procedures.

He said he still had not received a copy of the complaint submitted to the congregation and that his lawyer had been denied the opportunity to view the complaint document and the facts of the case. He said he had been denied a copy of the minutes of his meeting in Rome with Cardinal Medina, while the lawyer of the complainants “receives copies of all letters from the congregation to me—sometimes even before I do—but my lawyer does not.”

Archbishop Weakland has enlisted the services of Martha Wegan, a Rome-based canon lawyer, who may appeal the matter to the Apostolic Signature, the Church's supreme court.

Michael Dunnigan, general counsel of the St. Joseph Foundation, which helped renovation opponents prepare some of the papers for their challenge, disagreed that Archbishop Weakland had been treated unfairly in the Vatican's handling of the renovation controversy, the Journal Sentinel reported.

“I think Archbishop Weakland has made himself the judge of the Holy See,” Dunnigan said. “It's one thing to say that a decision-making body has made a mistake and then you go and ask them to reconsider evidence.

“But the archbishop or his spokesman said on June 26 that he submitted everything he had and was satisfied that he had submitted everything he needed to. He received a decision he didn't like, so he decided just to disobey it.”

Dunnigan also disputed Archbishop Weakland's claim, the Journal-Sentinel reported, that only a “small group” was objecting to the renovations, which have continued despite Cardinal Medina's intervention.

“There's been 2,500 people sign their names on the line in Milwaukee to say we are publicly opposing this [renovation],” Dunnigan said, “and yet the archbishop continues to call them a small contingent, continues to psychoanalyze them in this July 5 letter in a patronizing way.”

(Catholic News Service—and staff files contributed to this report)